Friday, 28 June 2013

Think first and act a little later

The composer Benjamin Britten was renowned for working on his pieces intensely and completing them quickly. His ‘Cantata Misericordium’ was due to be performed at the centenary celebrations of the Red Cross on the 1st of September 1963, and Britten composed it in May that year. This was very fast going for a major and complex piece of music.

Britten had, however, received the request for the piece at least eighteen months previously. He was very grateful for this because it enabled him to work in his preferred way, which was to give plenty of time to thinking and reflecting upon his approach before actually putting pencil to manuscript.

This period of contemplation and reflection enabled him to compose fluently and quickly because, as he sat down to write, he already had a clear idea of the overall feel and form of the piece and the key effects he wanted to achieve.

Frequently when problem solving we can confuse activity with effectiveness. We can dive headlong into problem solving without first taking a few steps back and pausing to reflect upon the overall nature of the problem, its context, its interrelated aspects and the various options and techniques available for solving it. When we do this we do not allow our more intuitive, big picture thinking to have the space it needs to influence and guide our actions.

Most of us are very unlikely to have the amount of advance notice of our problems that Britten had for his commission. We should not, however, discount the importance of allocating a meaningful amount of the time that we do have to thinking and reflecting rather than activity and action.

Time spent in contemplation and reflection is time well spent, as it enhances our overall understanding of our problems, clarifies our options for addressing them and can help guide our decisions about the activities and actions we eventually undertake.

If you think first and act a little later you may be pleasantly surprised by how intensely you can work and how quickly and effectively you can address the problems before you.

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